Julio Antonio Mella enrolled in the University of Havana in 1921 at the age of 18, and he immediately was integrated into a group of leaders of a student organization against corruption, which had become one of the principal problems of the neocolonial republic and a symptom of its lack of dignity. In December 1922, Mella was the leading force in the establishment of the University Student Federation (FEU for its initials in Spanish), which in January 1923, influenced by the university reform movement in Argentina, issued a manifesto calling for the reform of the University of Havana and the reorganization of its curriculum. A subsequent student strike and occupation of the campus led to recognition of FEU as a student organization by the Cuban government (Instituto de Cuba 1998:220-21; Vitier 2006:134).
Later in the same year, Mella presided over the First National Congress of Students, in which he presented a Marxist-inspired program that was adopted by the Congress, including a declaration of solidarity between manual workers and intellectual workers and the sending of a message of salutation to the Workers’ Federation of Havana (see “The Cuban workers’ movement of the 1920s” 7/8/2014); an expression of protest of the “outrages committed against the peoples of the Caribbean, Central America, the Philippines, Ireland, Egypt, India, and Morocco,” stating hope that “these peoples will obtain real self-determination;” declarations against US imperialist interference in the affairs of Latin American nations, represented by the Platt Amendment (see “The ‘democratic’ constitution of 1901” 6/30/2014), the Monroe Doctrine, and Pan-Americanism (see “Pan-Americanism and OAS” 10/2/2013); a call for Cuban diplomatic recognition of the Soviet Union; and a demand for the establishment of a literacy campaign, similar to those undertaken in Russia and Mexico (Instituto de Cuba 1998:221-22).
In 1923, Mella also was a leading figure in the establishment of the José Martí Popular University, in which Mella taught a course on the History of Humanity and Cuba. After it was compelled to relocate off the campus of the University of Havana, the Popular University became a center for exchange of ideas between students and workers. It was closed by the government in 1927 as part of a campaign of repression against the popular movement (Instituto de Cuba 1998:223, 225, 260-61; Vitier 2006:135).
With Carlos Baliño López (1848-1926), Mella founded on August 16-17, 1925 the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC for its initials in Spanish), the first Marxist-Leninist party in Cuba. Baliño, a pioneer of Marxism in Cuba, was a tobacco worker and one of the founders with José Martí of the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892. The PCC was immediately declared illegal, and it was condemned by the press. Its leaders were murdered, with the number of assassinations reaching 150 during its initial years. Many of its members were deported or incarcerated. It survived, however, operating clandestinely. It was the most disciplined and politically conscious organization of the country, although it had some tendency to apply European concepts to the Cuban situation, a characteristic that Mella himself did not share. The PCC had considerable influence among workers and peasants, and it was a recognized affiliate of the Third International (Instituto de Cuba 1998:227-30; Arboleya 2008:97).
Mella was arrested on November 27, 1925, falsely accused of having placed a bomb in a theater. He carried out a hunger strike from December 5 to December 23 in protest of his unjust arrest. The hunger strike was a success, inasmuch as the government was compelled to release him, because of the ample national and international protest (Instituto de Cuba 1998:260).
With his life in danger, Mella left clandestinely for Mexico in January 1926. During three years of exile in Mexico, he continued his revolutionary activities. Only 23 years of age when he arrived in Mexico, he joined the Mexican Communist Party and became a part of its Central Committee. He enrolled in the university to continue his studies, where he founded in 1928 the Association of Proletarian Students and its magazine, El Tren Blindado. He contributed to the founding of the National Peasant League of Mexico in 1926. And in February 1927, he attended, as a delegate of Anti-Imperialist League of Latin America, the World Congress against Colonial Oppression and Imperialism in Brussels. Following the Congress, he visited the Soviet Union (Instituto de Cuba 1998:260, 274; Vitier 2006:136).
In the beginning of 1928, Mella founded the New Cuban Revolutionary Émigrés, which called for the full independence of Cuba; the elimination of structures of economic dependency on the United States; distribution of land to poor peasants; government protection of national industry; a fully democratic political process, without distinctions based on race or any other social factor; and the rights of workers to strike and to an eight-hour workday (Instituto de Cuba 1998:275-77).
Julio Antonio Mella was assassinated in Mexico City on January 10, 1929 by an agent of the Cuban government, an event that provoked international protests (Instituto de Cuba 1998:277; Vitier 2006:136).
Mella was an important figure in the evolution of a Cuban ethic, tied to political theory and practice, and in the evolution of Cuban Marxism-Leninism, as we shall discuss in the next post.
Arboleya, Jesús. 2008. La Revolución del Otro Mundo: Un análisis histórico de la Revolución Cubana. La Habana: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.
Instituto de Historia de Cuba. 1998. La neocolonia. La Habana: Editora Política.
Vitier, Cintio. 2006. Ese Sol del Mundo Moral. La Habana: Editorial Félix Varela.
Key words: Third World, revolution, colonialism, neocolonialism, imperialism, democracy, national liberation, sovereignty, self-determination, socialism, Marxism, Leninism, Cuba, Latin America, world-system, world-economy, development, underdevelopment, colonial, neocolonial, blog Third World perspective, Cuban Revolution, neocolonial republic, Julio Antonio Mella